For more than two decades we have been bombarded with plentiful information about the need for action to build a more sustainable environment and to tackle climate change.
I rarely drive, have no dishwasher at home and until I became a member of parliament five years ago was a very infrequent aircraft passenger. Does that make me feel virtuous in these times of environmental reports which show people currently living on this planet are increasing their energy consumption at such a rate that future generations face the bleak prospect of massive changes in the world’s climate?
No, it does not. I hope that, should I be lucky enough to have great grandchildren, they will enjoy a world where seasons still exist; where the sun still shines and where water is not in any way rationed. But there is a danger that they may face such a bleak prospect without some radical reversing of the world’s use of fossil fuels
The UK is responsible for 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions and our share of them are rising. If the people of this country make a massive effort it will have a very small effect on the overall figure of emissions across the globe. I would suggest that is one of the reasons why our population is still not taking up the challenge as seriously as it probably should. In talking with colleagues, constituents, friends and family it is clear that no amount of evangelising will deter us from driving our cars, using the dishwater or flying on average eight to ten times a year.
The ugly truth is that we, like the rest of the world, are not going to give up our creature comforts for some testimony from so-called experts in environmental matters.
Take China for instance, a country that I have visited recently. For decades it was the land of the bicycle, but now its car ownership is rising faster than any other nation in history. There is much talk that car driving and ownership should be cut back but how can we tell that to city dwellers in China who have only just achieved the economic ability to afford personal motorised transport?
I believe that the answer lies in one simple problem and that is the use of fossil fuels for our energy needs and our transportation desires. Resolve to achieve a reduction in that area and everything else falls into place.
Naturally there is also a strong political imperative here. It is not in our interests to continue our over-reliance on oil from the Middle East or gas from Russia in view of the political instability in those regions. We need to develop new technology to enable us to drive ourselves and be flown and driven without high carbon emissions. We also need to create energy without recourse to fossil fuels. I have previously enthused about the use of nuclear power and I do so again. I want to see car manufacturers continue their development of vehicles which do not rely on petrol.
All aspects of decentralised energy need to be progressed but we also need to be able to give the public choices of energy use and lifestyle. This can be done by cost factors. That is the political reality which all economically vibrant nations from the largest global energy user, the USA, downwards seem unprepared to countenance.
Air fuel should be subject to a more realistic taxation regime. But who, especially in the political world, has the courage to stop most of a country’s residents from enjoying cheap holiday flights around the globe. If Britain taxed its fuel to take account fully of environmental aspects whilst fellow European countries did not, then it would be chaos. If the US taxed its fuel at a level reflecting the environmental costs there is, little doubt that the Wall Street stock market would plummet catastrophically.
A sustainable environment will cost money. It will need investment in technology, in change and in each person’s acceptability that the future is important. I was born in 1964 in an era when the glories of car ownership for all, cheap holiday flights for all and domestic appliances for all were distant aspirations rather than expectations.
Today we must accept that those commonly held expectations will need to be altered or curtailed if generations to come are not to inherit a planet with significantly less potential than the one we live on today.